During the first several weeks of stepping onto the recovery path from alcohol and drugs, it can be helpful to have a simple guide of suggested, common sense tips to make recovery more feasible and lasting. First, simply quitting the use of your substance of choice may not be enough to create an enduring life of sobriety.  I highly recommend joining a professional recovery/counseling group with professional therapists who can assist you on your early pathway. Recovery is not just about giving up an abusive relationship with a substance like alcohol. It is about forming new life tools and creating a better, more fulfilling life away from using. This will in turn make life easier to never use again.

Recovery groups are excellent for sharing and vocalizing your inner thoughts and feelings. During the early stages, there is a lot of remorse, guilt, sadness and desperation. No better support can be found than in the presence of others struggling with the same issues. The more you share in a group, the better you will feel. The more one allows their empathetic nature to grow when listening to the stories of others in recovery, the more one can integrate the “inside self” with the outside world.

It is important to embrace new, healthy habits. Upon awakening each morning, stop for a moment when lying in bed and give thanks to the day ahead. Thank yourself for allowing another day, one day at a time, to live free from addiction. Get up, make your bed, shower, brush your teeth. Make hygiene an important part of your morning with an attitude of gratefulness for your healing body. Do not rush through these tasks. Concentrate on them and take your time. Catch yourself when feeling anxious, and tell yourself that you are trying new techniques for coping with such anxiousness.  Tell yourself first, that a drink of alcohol in the moment now, or a hit of dope or popping a pill is not going to make life any better for you, but worse. When experiencing the dark, siren-like calls that go with trying to move away from your addiction, acknowledge these temptations and sit with them for a moment. Trying to quickly dispel (or deny) these thoughts can actually reinforce their persuasive power and give them false strength. Take a few deep breaths and gently allow better, healthier thoughts to enter your being. Remember, we have formed some very destructive habits as we descended into full-scale addiction. We have told ourselves that we will feel better with that pill or a stiff drink. We have convinced our inner being that we just cannot get through this morning or day ahead with using. Burst that bubble of falsehood – even if such a tug shows up at your doorstep each day for weeks to come. We are practicing a new set of techniques and it does involve a commitment by us to change.

Again, form healthy habits and stick to them. There is no way you can expect to live the way you once did when using. If you do not change your life, you will never fill the emptiness that was there to begin with. When we use we are trying to fill a pernicious void – an abyss. During the first days of recovery, fill that void by practicing healthy ways of living. After a good shower, some stretching, maybe a little exercising, try saying a simple prayer. I always like the Serenity Prayer for starting any morning – “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and Wisdom to know the difference.” Next, go eat something healthy, a bowl of cereal with banana slices for example. Make you coffee or tea and again, do not rush. If you find yourself in a hurry, get up a few minutes earlier the next morning. Most of society today is always discussing the anxiety they experience when in the midst of rushing. It is an illusion. Science has already proven that concentrated, non-rushed movements and thoughts actually accomplish considerably more during the course of a day. Beyond this, it is imperative to honor yourself by not allowing your new life to spin into the frequency so common today, and that is rushing. We owe it to ourselves to not get caught up in the frenzy of hurrying through the tasks of life, regardless of how an employer or teacher or family member may be pressuring us to comply. Protect yourself, give to yourself, honor yourself with healthy habits of daily living. The escape into drinking and/or using may have been actually endeavor to escape rushing.

There are dozens of healthy ways to approach any day. Start with a simple and consistent new set of habits and look to vary the routine in the weeks and months ahead as you learn what works and what doesn’t work for you. But, get up, make that bed, shower, brush the teeth, have a breakfast, drink plenty of good fluids, water, apple juice, tomato juice, breathe deeply, say a prayer, meditate, stretch, exercise, listen to soft music. The list of positive accoutrements you can add into this new morning routine or regime is endless. Compare this extensive menu of life habits to the highly dysfunctional and diminished choices we were allowing ourselves during the daily struggles of addiction. Do I have a drink now? Should I go to work or just lie in bed? I just don’t feel like facing life today. What story can I concoct to get out of work? Obviously, nothing more needs to be said here, that’s for sure.

There are numerous biological, chemical, and emotional causes for urges. Next time an urge assails us, check on these two physical aspects of ourselves. Am I thirsty? Am I hungry? Perhaps our blood sugar has dropped. This can bring on the feeling of urges. Treat yourself to an ice tea, a sparkling water or one of my favorite sober drinks now: one-third glass of apple juice on ice, topped off with sparkling water. It is just delicious and if the body is thirsty, this will quickly alleviate any sense of dehydration. The potassium in apple juice is also wonderful. If you are hungry, eat an apple or a banana with a tablespoon of peanut butter. Six or seven smaller meals a day, combining protein and carbohydrates, is a great way to keep one’s metabolism active throughout the day and the body and brain nourished. Nourish yourself. Why? Because you are worth it and you are now taking care of yourself. Cultivate sustenance for your physical being and your inner self. It is your life, and, it is a gift, and you will realize this gift once you do your part to help yourself live life in a positive way.

Remember again, the importance of meetings – sharing and listening with and to others. Your participation in the world of newly-found sobriety will solidify your recovery. We were never meant to live alone, hopelessly indulging in destructive habits that only remove us farther and farther from our true self and those around us. We may have thought we had to escape the perils and negativity of life around us. If there are certain individuals who have been in our life, family members, perhaps a spouse, so-called friends, that have been nothing but negative influences on us and only entice us further into addiction, then we must seek help from others to establish new relationships, with healthier people and friends, to surround us. When choosing recovery, we must have the courage to make positive decisions for ourselves. Closing old doors and opening new ones and forming new healthy habits will be a major part of this journey. We will revisit this theme of simple, common-sense tips for recovery. Until then, practice adding to your daily regime and learn to enjoy life living sober, living clean, One Day at a Time . . . until next time . . . 

Let’s face it – when endeavoring to distance ourselves from any substance addiction we simply do not want to go backwards. Yes, individuals do relapse while in recovery and such an event should never be viewed by anyone as a failure. However, it is a setback and can have painful consequences. I, for one, have never seen nor heard of an individual that had a happy or good relapse experience. How could it be so? The opposite occurs and the ramifications can be costly in so many ways. Usually, when a person starts using or drinking again, they quickly descend back to the level of drug or alcohol abuse they reached prior to attempting recovery. Moreover, one can easily plunge deeper into their addiction, prolonging this critical relapse period and making another attempt at recovery that much more trying than before.  

There is excellent material offered by highly reputable recovery organizations such as AA and Kolmac addressing this critical concern of the ‘relapse.’ Kolmac offers quite an insightful diagram called the ‘Relapse Sequence.’ It begins with how one can set up a rationalization process for using again, followed by behavior that surreptitiously brings one closer, physically and mentally, towards their substance of choice. A simple example of this is picking up some coffee or cigarettes close to a liquor store you once frequented. This is what AA refers to as a “slippery slope” – repeating patterns of behavior through location-triggers. Then the triggers ensue and intensify the cravings. There is a real snowball effect during this phase. 

Unfortunately, many succumb to the addiction’s siren-like calling, and exhibit a sudden inner decision, quite automatic and subconscious, that they must have a drink or use again. Usually, the rationalizing within kicks into high gear and offers many justifications. Familiar examples: I am just going to dabble this one time and then cut myself off immediately and get to that AA meeting. I cannot get through another day without using. Life is just not worth living without a drink or a fix. I know I can get off it again. I can have just a couple of drinks, no one will know. Hey, I just sobered-up this last month or two, didn’t I, that wasn’t so hard – I can do it again, right after I have a beer or two. I do not really have a problem. If I had not gotten that DWI I would be back at a bar this very evening drinking with my buddies. If my parents had not gotten back from dinner so early, I would not have been caught. If my co-worker had not reported me to my supervisor, I would still have a job and everything would be okay. We know the rap very well indeed, don’t we? The sad outcome is we nose-dive further and further into the relapse. 

Let us right now call a spade a spade; we did this to ourselves. We chose to relapse. It is our responsibility, our decision. But, we know this and somehow this realization did not prevent us from returning to our unfortunate state of servitude. Like it or not our reciprocating inner dialogue now chastises us for our relapse. Examples of this: Are we that helpless in life even with assistance all around us? Do we not care at all about our life and others? Am I that stupid, that weak? Is it really possible to live clean and sober? Do we like waking up in the morning chained to a substance, fully knowing how that substance is destroying everything in our life? Do we enjoy the looks and responses we get from our loved ones or coworkers when we relapse and see the mistrust in their eyes? 

People who have never experienced alcohol or drug abuse/addiction will most likely not understand what a person goes through during a relapse - the bleak consequences of a recovery gone awry. But we do. It is indeed a very harsh reality to face. Moreover, for what – a lousy moment with a drink or two or more consumed, or pills swallowed, toxic smoke inhaled, or an injurious and noxious substance shot into a vein. It just does not add up and it never will.

There is little disputing that the pressures of life can become intense. Stress, anxiety, and depression can overwhelm people with or without addiction issues. However, for someone trying to get free of their addiction, the strains and worries of life are more amplified and overwhelming beyond reason and control – so it seems. Challenges in life will appear insurmountable and perplexing. The relapse succession of events resulting in this inner upheaval is not to be underestimated. The unfortunate setback begins and we are using and drinking uncontrollably. Many of us will attest to falling prey to this multifaceted relapse sequence and this is why so much effort is offered by recovery organizations to assist at just such a crossroad.

Please explore the wonderful research that is available to us. Trained and caring professionals have devoted a lot of effort and time over the years to help us understand the very complex mental and physical components that occur beforea relapse. One of the aspects I would like to address here in this blog concerns the thought process itself. For starters, each moment that a person has a thought, there is a correlative and complex inner response to that thought. Often, we do not even notice the reaction to a singular thought because so many thoughts pass through one’s mind at any given time. However, repeated thoughts tend to gather force and momentum forming subconscious units of orb-like energy. For instance, you are having anxious thoughts regarding a project at work – each time attention focuses upon this impending project, these thoughts converge inside and continue to activate the neurological and chemical responses described as anxiousness.

We know that attempting to dismiss such kinds of thoughts is not easy, sometimes ostensibly inconceivable. For example, when we try to ‘stop’ our thinking process about having a drink, we often end up thinking about that drink even moreso. Our desire to negate the thoughts regarding drinking or using can produce the opposite effect. We inadvertently energize that part of the brain that invokes our desire to imbibe our substance of choice. Moreover, usually we remember only the ‘good’ parts of past use.

A gentle and mindful approach to the thinking process has been proven more effective when trying to dissuade undesirable thoughts from having power over one’s mind. Conversely, this more congenial practice to how we think can more easily allow the entry of positive, healthy thoughts. When a thought runs through our mind urging us to have a drink, for instance, instead of giving it more power than it deserves, simply recognize the thought. Take a deep breath or two and allow the urging thought to have its moment of recognition. Then, with attentiveness, let the thought float away. Wait a moment, take another deep breath, and invite in other, healthy thoughts. Think of your gratefulness for being sober or clean. Consider the health and well-being you now have in your recovery. Feel how wonderful it is to wake up and remember last night and to have no remorse for giving in to your addiction. Take a walk or a jog and breathe in that nourishing air. Allow yourself to experience caring and loving thoughts about who you are. Read some inspirational material. Take in some passages from the Big Book. Think about the other people you have met in recovery and how they have given to you and how you wish to give back.  Pick up the phone and call your sponsor.  Get up and go to a meeting.  You know what to do.

This is a simple beginning to mindful thinking. Another excellent way to understand this practice and not get caught into that pretentiousness that sometimes surrounds such exercises is to recall that wonderful quote from Diana Robinson. “Prayer is when you talk to God. Meditation is when you listen to God.” I truly love this quotation. When you allow yourself to ‘listen’ there are so many magnificent and loving thoughts one can draw into their inner being. Mindfulness takes practice. Allowing yourself to gently dismiss those undesired relapse thoughts, and with compassion, calm and patience invite in those healthy thoughts of sobriety and living clean, you will continue to avoid the treachery of the relapse sequence. It is another excellent tool for our Unconditional Recovery - our eternal pledge to live free from alcohol and drugs. Until next time....be kind to yourself, attend meetings